The Paralympics – good or bad for disabled people?

Paralympics logoI fought against writing a blog about the Paralympics because I know it will cost me friends! Most have strong feelings one way or another about the Paralympics and of course expect me to agree with them.

However, it’s not often I sit on the fence about anything disability-related, but I really have very mixed feelings about the Paralympics. Reading over the last couple of weeks many, many articles on the subject written by other disabled commentators, opinions seem equally divided, with some believing that attitudes really might change for the better, and others that the Paralympics do disabled people a huge disservice. I remain unconvinced by either side. Here, if anyone is interested at all, are some of my fairly random thoughts on the matter:


As a disabled person, I actually did find the sheer determination, hard work and achievements of these world class athletes inspiring (and I feel myself cringing and feeling apologetic as I say that word – see “Bad” lower down!). I admire the guts and hard work put in by all of the athletes, and I found it all quite emotional.

It was helpful in demonstrating the range of disabilities – there is a tendency for people to automatically think “wheelchair” when the word disability is mentioned, and this event reminded people that disability includes visual impairments, amputees, dwarfism and a whole range of other impairments. However, by definition all of the athletes were physically fit and therefore many impairments would not have been mentioned – ME, mental health issues, and very few learning disabilities. And, of course, no deaf or hearing-impaired athletes.

It challenged the stereotype that disabled people can’t achieve. It helped us focus on what these athletes could do rather than what they couldn’t – a message I’m constantly trying to get across to employers.

For a few days, the general public weren’t purely thinking of disabled people as benefit scroungers, and therefore legitimate targets for hate crime.

It forced our capital city to think about accessibility issues across the infrastructure, particularly including transport. For a couple of weeks it was less difficult for disabled people to travel around London, with lots of volunteers and portable ramps.


One of the long-standing problems has been that disabled people are, for some reason, seen as “saints or sinners” (there is even a television programme about us with that name). A disabled person can’t be an ordinary person getting on with their lives as best as they can, they must either be a benefit scrounger, or a superhuman hero. I suspect that less than 1 % of us disabled folk fall into either category, but somehow the Paralympics perpetuate (Channel 4 even using the term Superhuman!) the myth. The 98% of us ordinary disabled people remain invisible. We don’t want to be thought of as “inspiring” or “brave” or “courageous” (hence my comment above) – not one of us chose to be disabled.

For those who believe the lies about most disabled people being benefit scroungers (in reality it’s less than 1%), I have heard people suggest, almost seriously, that if disabled people just put a bit of effort in they could also be world class athletes, let alone get a job. This is as ridiculous as suggesting that with a bit of effort, every man in the street could beat Usain Bolt!

The Paralympics, held separately from the Olympics, emphasises the “separateness” of disabled people – almost an after thought. The swift u-turn about gold medallists being on their own postage stamp, the Paralympic torch being silver not gold (denoting second best) and many other indications that these weren’t as good as the “real” Olympics.

The fact that despite “inspiring a generation”, most sports facilities in Britain are inaccessible.

The fact that despite the Prime Minister publically praising the Paralympian athletes, he will still be stripping 500,000 disabled people (almost certainly including many of the athletes he so admires) of Disability Living Allowance.

Sick joke:

Atos, the company tasked with declaring seriously sick and disabled people “fit for work” and pushing many disabled people further into poverty (32 people a week died last year after this company declared them “fit for work”) were also sponsors of the Paralympics. Yes, I know they are only “following orders” – but where have we heard that before?

Funny joke:

The Chancellor of the Exchequer being booed by the crowds – the first boos heard by an exceptionally kind and welcoming audience!

If I had to come off the fence, on balance I’m for the Paralypics – why shouldn’t disabled people who love sport have the same opportunity to compete in such a prestigious event as non-disabled people? And if it encourages those disabled people who enjoy and are able to take part in sport to do so, then that’s good too. However – I feel both forms of Olympics should run at the same time (have a one month event rather than two separate events), and I feel that we should accord all disabled people the respect, admiration, rights, resources and opportunities as the talented athletes we have been watching. Long after they have gone back into training, and the volunteers and portable ramps have long disappeared – let’s make sure the legacy of the Paralympics is that we change how we view disabled people – not just on the sportsfield, but also in the workplace, the boardroom, the Houses of Commons and Lords, the theatre, the concert hall, and indeed in every area of life accessible to non-disabled people. Let’s include all disabled people in everyday life – not just the sporty ones.


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18 thoughts on “The Paralympics – good or bad for disabled people?

    1. My understanding is that someone whose only disability was deafness or hearing impairment wouldn’t be able to compete – they had to have another disability as well in order to be eligible, but I could be wrong (I watched some of the games, but not a great deal).


  1. How interesting that you and I view the Paralympic Games so very differently, yet on so many things we agree, I am very anti the Paralympics and see no more relevance to me as a disabled person than they were when I wasn’t disabled, infact I took more interest in them then.

    This has been the first olympics that I have been well enough to be aware of since disability prevented me from working and since being a wheelchair user. My attitude to the games has changed in the run up. Two years ago I was all for the Paralympics, however not now.

    I don’t have ceribal palsy, am not an amputee and do not have a visual impairment (yes there are a couple of other classifications but that covers most of it) – that is a tiny proportion of disabilities, but anyway why on earth are we still so condition focussed? My conditions are nobody’s business other than me and my medical team.

    Surely these games are disabled people trying to show the world how ‘nearly normal’ they are, how nearly as fast or strong as a ‘normal’ person they can be and the winner will probably be the one competing who is the ‘least disabled’

    If disabled people want to take part in olympic events then create events that anyone can take part in, including non disabled and compete in those. You know like wheelchair sports and blind(folded) sports.

    By far most disabled people’s strengths are not going to lie in physical competition so why not lets stop trying to be ‘nearly normal’ and demonstrate the strengths we do have. We tend to be less discriminatory, more welcoming (even if that was not the case for people with aquired disabilities beforehand) we have the massive range of skills and interests everyone else has.

    I don’t want to be nearly as good as a non-disabled person. I want to excel!


  2. This is my dilemma Carol – I can completely see your point of view. But if a disabled person is a competitive sportsman or woman (and why shouldn’t they be?) and, for example, their sport is swimming, why should they be denied the right to compete in something as prestigious as the Olympics because, for example, they have no legs or only one arm?

    I do exactly agree with what you say, but then I also agree with those who say they didn’t see these athletes as “nearly as good as a non-disabled person” but aa a damn sight better than most.

    Do we say to someone who has loved sport all their life and then become disabled that they can no longer compete in their chosen sport?

    I find myself swinging from one extreme view to the other in minutes. It’s far too complex for there to be a black and white, right or wrong answer. For my befuddled brain, anyway.


    1. To sound calous for a moment if you loose an arm you are no longer going to be able to swim at olympic standard, you may be able to swim and swim well and enjoy it.

      My sports were cycling and swimming, now I let cycling decilne then go completely but swimming I continued, initially I could use my legs but only in a butterfly type motion, then I dragged them and swam with my arms, I continued like that, competing with myself against the clock and to do more lengths faster than the other people there. Right until I totally lost the ability to balance in the water, by which time I was only doing the tiniest strokes with my arms to keep moving. Obviously I was not able to compete with that level of disability but had we been able to classify my stages of degeneration and given a big enough selection of disabled people we could have manufactured an event – but shoudl we?

      I actually think yes maybe we should if the population was there BUT not as a spectator sport and definatly not as the main way disabled people demonstrate our strengths to the world, since physical strength for most of us is not our main strength.


      1. Again – valid points which I really do agree with. I’ve never been sporty, before or since disability. But if disabled people wish to compete in their chosen sport in front of an audience I don’t think they should be excluded from doing so, just because it’s not something I could ever do. They have every right to be proud of the amazing things they can achieve, just in the same way a talented artist or actor or musician should.

        One of the problems is that this is the only major showcase of disabled people. Perhaps if we saw far more disabled people reading the news, appearing in plays, working in our offices, appearing in parliament and every other area of public life, as well as being integrated into the Olympics, it wouldn’t be so bad. At the moment it seems like disabled people are divided into two – world class athletes and the others! Maybe if “the others” were showcased in lots of different ways we’d feel differently about disabled athletes competing in public.


  3. I, too, had mixed feelings about the Paralympics, but couldn’t quite say why. Reading your post made me realise, it was this ‘second best’ bit that I sensed and didn’t like.
    Thanks for posting!


  4. I don’t have a disability. I enjoy running but am never likely to win any medals apart from the ones for showing up and taking part. I loved the Olympics and I loved the Paralympics equally. I agree that the Paralympics were treated as 2nd best, particularly with the BBC deciding not to show the Paralympics.


  5. I read the above article with interest and for me here is my 10 pence worth it may well turn in to £20 worth!

    First ~ In order to be equal disabled people need all the legislation to be effective but it isn’t so from the get go disabled people were never going to be treated equal.

    However from what I understand the Olympic village was very accessible with lots of back up staff and support for the both Olympics. This is something that isn’t acknowledged. Support from Dr’s Nurses other health professionals security police and game makers. Enablers Carers Physiotherapists massage facilities games TV areas families brought to the games facilitated family rooms. Different diets catered for and food available at the flash of a tea tray. Accessible rooms toilet facilities wheel in walk in wet rooms and much much more in order for everyone to perform at their very best.

    The above made a “false” village not real life but hey this is the Olympics a place where people were supported by the national lottery to have a regular income for both disabled and non disabled athletes call it an elite benefit system if you will ~ you run we will pay you ~ sponsor you. In return you have to train every day for hours in the hope that on a given day at a given time you can prove you are the best in the world at that given action because you put the effort in.

    Now on to the Olympics themselves first the Paralympics means parallel too the Olympics and yes there were a few disabled athletes who competed in the Olympics because they were deemed to be comparable to non disabled athletes and enabled to do so ~ so for me that was a bonus. Logistically I do not think we can meld both the Olympics and the Paralympics together. There are too many people to integrate together however I am willing to be proved wrong on that score.

    The majority of Paralympians who had television coverage were mainly disabled people who acquired a disability through some sort of trauma blown up by an IED in Iraq or Afghanistan eaten by a shark or run over by a train known to some as “supercrips” a term I do not like but can fully understand.

    There were some disabled athletes who had congenital disabilities some had all limbs missing and swam like a dolphin others had quite challenging impairments for the individual perhaps they dribbled who knows you didn’t see them on the main TV coverage perhaps a little too disabled for the viewing public.
    If I were a TV producer I would have pushed the boundaries to the stratosphere!

    You would have had a far more eclectic coverage of documentaries and dramas wrapped around the paralympic games an understanding of how much it costs to be a disabled person in this country how the nations welfare reforms are about to attack the very lives of many disabled people including paralympians the increase of disability hate crime the lack of social accessible housing available how parents have to fight from the get go when they are told that their precious child has a disability and how hard it is to keep mind and soul together to support your family when you have debilitating conditions that are very miss understood and could never compete with non disabled people or along disabled people in sport but certainly have other mega abilities. Such as art drama craft etc.

    The language of “abled bodied” and the continual banging on about impairments would have been band completely by all commentators (Clare Balding who totally “got it” never used a derogatory term what so ever)
    There was a system called LEXY that explained all the information you needed to know about impairments and the classification categories.

    I would also have made sure that all paralympians and Olympians had a crash course in disability etiquette and appropriate language to use in the written as well as televised media. I was horrified to hear a female commentator who was disabled use the term “It’s mental” “the crowd are going mental” “its nuts” these terms was also used by disabled athletes too. I was very pleased that people who had intellectual impairments were re introduced back into the Paralympics this time around and quire right too!!

    There may well have been people with ME hearing impaired people (I did spy a few hearing aids however hearing aids are more or less invisible now (it’s hard to see at a glance on a TV screen). We will never know if people had mental illnesses that did compete in both games because those impairments are either invisible never talked about or indeed aren’t sexy enough to be talked about ~ it is too complicated for naive commentators to get their heads around (apart from the glorious Clare Balding ) or just to debilitating to allow people to participate. We don’t know what we don’t know do we. Having said that ~ 1 in 4 will have a mental illness during their lives so that fact could easily have been dropped in somewhere. Also it would have been easy for someone to say although we are seeing many disabled people compete In these wonderful games we know there are many more that cannot however we hope you are enjoying the games. Simple isn’t it. To acknowledge people.

    There is now the “superhuman” tag that was invented by Chanel 4 TV.
    Wishing to push Paralympics up the viewing agenda they used this tag in order to create a “Who are they then” effect from the non disabled community and it worked. But there is a negative in this that all disabled people will now be classed as having the ability to be Paralympians and “Super humans” and have the abilities like Stephen Hawkins who has the brain the size of a planet that is along side a black hole for extra effect.

    Stephen Hawkins was non disabled prior to his diagnosis of his impairments and I can guarantee that nothing is ever mentioned about his sizable care package that is required for him just to function on a daily basis never mind anything else.

    His main job is to “think” what are the possibilities and yes he has a “liberator” in order to talk but a “liberator” isn’t a right for all disabled adults and children who need them ~ Jo and Joanna public need to understand that and the back stories that enable disabled people to just participate in sport or indeed just an ordinary life are HUGE!

    I think the trouble with the bad descriptions that were from the all athletes is because they live in a “bubble” of training training training and not much more in real life to be honest. That is “their life” sport sport sport and the rest of us have to deal with things like gas electric bills trying to find suitable equipment such as manual and power wheelchairs and scooters hoists etc plus the dreadful welfare reforms and the attacks on the NHS. The very foundations we rely on.

    There is an is an underlying anger from disabled people to my mind and that rose way before the Olympics came to fruition it started more than two years ago. Even prior to that we had the rush of media surrounding the lack of disability legislation for equal rights and people “got it” and we “got it” in October 1995 we achieved it and later in 1997 finally got a commission a Disability Rights Commission that then was melded together with the Equality & Human Rights Commission known as EHRC but disabled peoples rights had little time to embed before that melding.
    Because the DRC was superseded by the EHRC and after effects many disabled commissioners left there is only one disabled person on the EHRC now ~ the legislation we achieved in 1995 has been superseded by the Equality Act 2010 but legal aid has been reduced the help lines have been reduced and governments started to look at welfare reform affecting housing health and the whole benefit system.
    Red top news papers started to look for “benefit cheats” and people who pretended to be disabled were “outed” then the “red top” media encouraged people to “shop” a benefit cheat and real genuine disabled people are in the fall out of this chant and actions.

    The introduction of Atos to conduct medical assessments for WCA and ESA that are proving to be so outrageous even the BMA are furious! Never mind disabled people and then the biggest insult ever Atos sponsored the Paralympic games!!! Are the paralympians about to target Atos no because it would have been biting the very hand that fed them.

    Disabled people are a group of very diverse knowledgeable people we know our history we know where we come from and wish to go to.
    Those activists who were around in 1995 and before are now of an age where we are shattered tired and only have time to concentrate on ourselves these days we live from day to day or have sadly died. We are waiting for the younger disabled people who are politically active to take over however many are employed now or are unaware of their own history to actually create a protest to be seen on TV for example.
    We all remember the black American Olympians that raised their black gloved hands whilst they received their medals on the podium it was an image I will never forget.

    The very fact that our prime minister David Camron knows what is is like to have a disabled child and his Father was disabled too AND what is about to happen to disabled people in this country the fallout from the WCA and ESA assessments done by Atos and the looming Disability Living Allowance reviews trots up to celebrate the paralympics how vary dare he!! The audience knew exactly hence the booing he received it amused me that he was surprised! Very sadly Paralympians haven’t a clue that the very benefits they rely on DLA and mobility and care allowance under the new rules they will not qualify are going to disappear by the time RIO 2016 comes around!! They will need those benefits in order to participate!!!!

    Now you may think I am totally against the Olympics Para or not and in actual fact I am not. I just think sometimes we need to look at the “bigger picture” what it has done for putting the great back in “Great Britain” and “Made in Britain” and as with anything there will always be something “wrong” we cannot please all of the people all of the time. You only have to look at my long list above to understand my frustrations

    BUT I loved it I felt so proud to be British and I am delighted that many disabled people finally got the TV coverage and crowds that experienced the passion the pride the frustration the achievement just for finishing even last in a race it didn’t matter ~ those paralympians deserved to have their achievements watched their magnificent achievements!!!. Diversity in all it’s forms are fantastic lets celebrate it 


    1. I forgot to mention the coverage from the Beiging olympics were about 4 hours tops per day ~ that was 4 years ago now we have had massive coverage ~ I know there are disabled people out there who are valiently trying to put the arguements across about welfare reform etc such as Dame Anne Begg MP Dame Jane Campbell and Dame Tanny Grey Thompson and the importance of DLA and appropriate extra support such as the Independent Living Fund (IFL) and also the proposed cuts in Socail Care from local councils such as Worcestershire Country Council ~ we are trying including myself but we need those paralympians to now jump on our bus to ensure appropriate benefits and support systems are in place for all disabled people to be as diverse as they can be in their chosen fields as you mentioned earlier such as art drama theatre and the written word etc. Or just to live an ordinary supported life independently in the community along with their families with a lifestyle of thie chioce and after all choice and control is what everyone desires in life and the opportunity to “have a go!


  6. You know I am always surprised by the polarizing effect that something like the Para Olympics can have. It seems, to me, to be an event organized like any other to allow folks to come together to do what they love. What’s wrong with that? Many of the complaints can be applied to just about anything even our regular Olympics.

    I think anyone who pushes their limits is inspiring disabled or not. And I think that anyone who gets up every day and tackles it no matter the challenges they face is also inspiring.


  7. Given the success of the Olympics and Paralympics, maybe there’s room for another event that celebrates all of those that have been left out?

    Able-bodied people with no athletic ability. Competition for that would be fierce.

    By the way, do you know why George Osborne was booed by 80,000 people in the Olympic Stadium?

    Because the Olympic stadium only holds 80,000 people.

    PS…nice blog, Jane.


  8. There’s been a lot of debate around disbility and I think your blog nicely sums up some of the arguments from both sides. I suppose the real challenge now is how do you keep that debate going and get something useful out of it?


    1. I agree with you James. I’m a Canadian and the stroke I had in 2005 when I was only 55 left me with some disabilities. There are many things that I can’t now do (like drive a car) but I never complain.

      I’m an entrepreneur and just last week bought the domain name – . As an entrepreneur already (I’ve been self employed since 1980) I believe that entrepreneurship is the way for disabled people to go. They have ALL the qualities that entrepreneurs do – persistence, stick to itness, courage, risk taker etc- they HAVE to have them.

      I agree with you James – how do we “get something useful out of it?” 🙂


  9. Thanks James, and like Trudy I will be working hard to keep this issue high on the agenda. Sadly tho, I suspect it will be mainly disabled people doing so. Most non-disabled people don’t think this is relevant to their lives – until they acquire a disability (like Trudy and I and millions of others have) and then suddenly it becomes all too relevant.

    Disability hate crime is still soaring, so I doubt the Paralympics will have been more than two weeks of slightly different television entertainment. The athletes go back to training, and the rest of us keep banging our heads on brick walls in the hope that some people might just stop and listen long enough to get some understanding. And the government continue with their plans to push more and more disabled people into even worse poverty.


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